inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #151 of 174: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sat 5 Jun 10 18:02
    
I take your point. But since most people are highly biased judges of
their own behavior, the logical conclusion is that it's impossible to
fairly judge anyone's moral worth, even our own.

And yet, who can live with extreme moral relativism? Making moral
judgements and acting on them is an inevitable part of human (and
animal) psychology, not to mention culture and justice systems. And
what positive social change happened without it? Saying "judge not"
doesn't sound like practical politics.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #152 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Sun 6 Jun 10 19:15
    
You're right; "judge not" would make a very bad political slogan. But
again, I'm not arguing for moral relativism.  There's a big difference
between judging the morality of certain types of behavior and judging
the moral worth of human beings themselves.  I believe murder is
morally wrong, but I don't think I can judge whether someone who kills
someone else is ultimately a good or bad person.  None of us are all
good or all bad.  As Bryan Stevenson once put it, none of us should be
judged by our worst act alone.  And if we can't reduce the value of a
human being to a single act, then how do we go about judging?  

The good news is that we don't need to judge the moral worth of human
beings.  We can judge behavior and make rules and laws designed for our
collective benefit.  And we can treat everyone, no matter who they are
or what they have done, with dignity and respect.  That's what human
rights laws are all about -- recognizing the basic dignity and value of
all.  We need not determine who is worthy of food, shelter, and health
care.  We all are.  No matter who we are or what we have done.

But I don't want to get too sidetracked here.  The question of whether
and to what extent we can successfully judge the morality of other
people's behavior (or our own) is not an issue that I explored in the
book.  I raise the issue here only because the impulse to judge, and
judge harshly, is an extremely risky and dangerous one -- more so than
we generally assume.  It's part of what makes it possible for us to
rationalize the suffering and exclusion of others.

    
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #153 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Sun 6 Jun 10 19:17
    
As for "practical politics," I've been doing some thinking in recent
years about what that term means. In the course of writing the book, I
read lots of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches and was struck by how
impractical he was.  He consistently sought to move people beyond
prevailing common sense, beyond what felt reasonable and comfortable,
and far beyond what anyone thought possible. He almost never made
pragmatic arguments about the unnecessary cost of maintaining separate
bathrooms or separate schools.  He almost never appealed to
self-interest.  Instead he spoke consistently about love, compassion,
forgiveness, ignorance, power, greed, courage, and spiritual blindness.
 When reading his speeches I was struck by the fact that nobody -
nobody - talks like that in mainstream, political forums today.  

Not surprisingly, King was constantly being told by politicians and
organizers that he lacked political sense and was doomed to fail.  And
even after he succeeded in building a mass movement, so many former
political allies turned against him, including the New York Times
editorial board, when he spoke out against the Vietnam War.  Nearly
everyone said it was political suicide.  King said he wasn't interested
in playing politics; he was committed to truth and justice for
everyone, everywhere.

And that's precisely what is lacking today, I think.  The kind of
visionary leadership that is not swayed by focus groups and polling
data. I hope we will see, once again, leaders and organizers who are
committed to moving "the center" of American politics, not playing to
it.  I hope we will see the emergence of a movement that redefines what
is practical and possible.  I'm increasingly convinced that practical
politics leads nowhere I want to go. 
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #154 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 7 Jun 10 04:51
    
Michelle, we're down to the last couple of days here, and it's been a
wonderful conversation.  

What can people who want to get involved do next?  I'm with you on the
failings of practical politics, but what's the next step?
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #155 of 174: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 8 Jun 10 11:50
    
Practically, there should be a website where your data can be posted. 
I found the statistics shocking and horrifying.  I would never have
thought that on the entire planet, we are imprisoning more people than
any other country, nor the genocidal percentages as well.  

Also, I'm curious...you mentioned in the book's introduction that your
husband does not share your views about the criminal justice system. 
In what way(s) does he see it differently?
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #156 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 8 Jun 10 15:07
    

My husband is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.  In
other words, he's the chief federal prosecutor for the southern half
of Ohio. He was appointed by Obama about a year ago.  Obviously, it
would be difficult for him to do his job if he saw things as I do.  He
fully recognizes that bias exists in the system and that people who are
branded felons have an extraordinarily difficult time obtaining
employment, housing, public benefits and education and are frequently
denied the right to vote and excluded from juries.  I can't/won't speak
for him in terms of what he does or doesn't agree with, but I am
grateful for his loving support while I was writing this book.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #157 of 174: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Tue 8 Jun 10 16:10
    
In terms of where we go from here, I think the most critical thing
that can be done at this stage is consciousness-raising.  Most people
are not aware of the horrifying statistics or even how our laws operate
to lock people labeled felons into a permanent second-class status for
life.  Most people have a vague sense that life is hard for felons,
but few understand that the system is designed to create a permanent,
racial undercaste.  And even fewer know the history of the drug war and
its links to earlier systems of racial control.  So consciousness
raising is essential.  Without a critical understanding of what this
system is, where it came from, and how it operates, there's little hope
of successful movement building.

So what does consciousness raising mean?  It means sharing books like
this one with everyone you know, as well as other books like Texas
Tough, Let's Get Free, and Doing Time on the Outside. Creating book
clubs that explore these issues is a great way of getting dialogue
started.  Consciousness raising also means sharing videos like American
Violet and links to speeches, videos and other information about the
bias in the drug war and its horrific consequences.  

If you're a member of a faith community, you can encourage members to
become informed and to find ways to support people returning from
prison, as well as the families of those behind bars.  A growing number
of churches and mosques are providing re-entry services and creating
support groups for family members grieving the loss of loved ones to
the new caste system.

While these support efforts are critically important, they are not
enough.  In faith communities, as well as other organizations, it's
extremely important to encourage people to move beyond support services
to grassroots organizing and other forms of political advocacy.  I
find people often underestimate how much power they have when they act
collectively.  Faith groups and local community organizations can
launch campaigns to end all forms of discrimination against people
branded felons, including felon disenfranchisement laws, employment
discrimination, and denial of public benefits.  Efforts can be made to
support groups of formerly incarcerated people like All of Us or None
(see http://www.allofusornone.org) that are already organizing for
basic civil and human rights.  These groups can also participate in
advocacy to reform our drug laws and abolish harsh mandatory minimum
sentences.

You can also start your own organization.  If you're not a member a
grassroots organization, and if you don't know of any grassroots
organizations that you want to join, don't hesitate to start your own. 
It can begin with a book club.  Or you can begin by launching an
organization on-line.  If you are formerly incarcerated, you can reach
out to other people in your situation and create an organization that
provides support, counseling, job training, and engages in
movement-building - an organization like A New Way of Life in Los
Angeles, founded by Susan Burton.

And no matter what, you can always donate to those organizations that
are doing great work, like All of Us or None, The Ella Baker Center for
Human Rights, Critical Resistance, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families
Against Mandatory Minimums.  The Civil Rights Movement would not have
been possible without the financial support of many people who did not
participate in sit-ins or Freedom Rides, but who contributed
financially to the cause.

No matter what you do, and no matter what form your contribution
takes, it's critically important to ensure that the work you are
supporting is movement-building work - not mere reform work.  I
describe the difference between movement-building work and mere reform
work in the last chapter.  Of course we must seek concrete reforms.  I
provide a laundry list of important reforms that should be sought by
advocates in chapter 6.  But the WAY we seek reforms is more important
that which reforms we seek.  We are doing nothing more than "tinkering
with the system," if we fail to challenge the prevailing public
consensus about race, crime, and who is "deserving" of our collective
care and concern.  In short, if the reform work is responding to
political reality, rather than trying to change our social and
political consciousness in profound ways, whatever reforms are won will
be doomed to fail in the long run.  The system adapts well to changes
in legal rules.  

In short, in our efforts to build a new movement, we should seek
opportunities to work with and support those who are willing to be
bold, unconventional, and radically honest -- even when it seems the
truth will fall on deaf ears.  And we must always, always be willing to
talk about the role of race in this system.  Colorblind advocacy to
end this caste system merely serves to perpetuate and reinforce the
understandings that gave rise to the system itself.  Until we heal the
racial divisions that gave rise to mass incarceration, we will continue
to birth caste systems in America, even if mass incarceration fades
away.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my work here.
 Mark, you've been a wonderful host.  And thank you to all who've
participated in this conversation.  I hope our paths will cross again
soon.

All the best,
Michelle  
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #158 of 174: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 8 Jun 10 18:46
    
More power to you Michelle, this has been a privilege and I hope I can
do my small part in raising consciousness on these issues, you have
certainly raised mine.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #159 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 8 Jun 10 18:47
    
Yes, it's been a great discussion.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #160 of 174: Marika Wertheimer (peony) Tue 8 Jun 10 19:29
    
I have followed the discussion and I would like to thank you, Michelle
for a wonderful and eye-opening discussion. I had no idea what some of
the ramifications of being an ex-felon were. It truly is a caste
system, being created. Thanks again for a great book.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #161 of 174: Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 9 Jun 10 04:55
    
At this time we will be turning our focus to a new interview.  I'd
like to than you, Michelle, for an enlightening discussion.  Mark,
thank you again for leading this discussion.

By all means, continue on.  There's a lot to be done.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #162 of 174: Jessica Merz (baker) Thu 10 Jun 10 15:01
    
Michelle, thank you for such an insightful book and a fantastic
conversation.  Good luck!
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #163 of 174: Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 28 Jun 10 11:18
    
Columnist Leonard Pitts gives "The New Jim Crow" an unqualified rave:

<http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_15379442>
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #164 of 174: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 28 Jun 10 11:20
    
Good!
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #165 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 1 Jul 10 10:12
    
The [California] State Chapter of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is endorsing a ballot initiative
for this November to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use....

NAACP State President, Alice Huffman, said the organization is backing
the initiative, to counter marijuana arrest rates.

She contends that it unfairly targets African Americans and other
minorities.

<http://news.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=naacp+calif
ornia+marijuana+laws>

Sounds like the leaders of the traditional Civil Rights groups have
been reading the book.  Which makes sense.

From a recent published article, Huffman states: "There is a strong
racial component that must be considered when we investigate how
marijuana laws are applied to people of color," she said. "The burden
has fallen disproportionately on people of color and young Black men in
particular."
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #166 of 174: David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 1 Jul 10 21:28
    
During the Elena Kagen confirmation hearings, Sen. Dick Durbin asked
her a question of what to do about mass incarceration of blacks.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #167 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 2 Jul 10 05:52
    
I missed that.  What did she answer?
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #168 of 174: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 8 Jul 10 06:37
    
interesting -- legalizing marijuana is a civil rights issue

<http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/07/07/naacp.marijuana.support/index.html?hpt=
T2>
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #169 of 174: David Gans (tnf) Thu 8 Jul 10 10:53
    

Damn straight.  And an equal protection issue, and a matter of common
decency, too.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #170 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 23 Oct 10 09:56
    
Charles M. Blow, writing in the NYT:

"Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s recent chest-thumping against the
California ballot initiative that seeks to legalize marijuana
underscores how the war on drugs in this country has become a war
focused on marijuana, one being waged primarily against minorities and
promoted, fueled and financed primarily by Democratic politicians. "

<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/opinion/23blow.html?ref=opinion>

The column mentions Michelle's book.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #171 of 174: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Sat 23 Oct 10 09:58
    
Thanks, Mark.   I've been stewing over that column all morning.
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #172 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 23 Oct 10 12:53
    
Yeah, I suppose I can understand why Democratic Party is in bed with
Wall Street - at least there's a rational reason for it, even it's
odious.  But clearly they can't really think that marijuana is
dangerous, so what gives?
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #173 of 174: David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 19 Jan 12 12:50
    
Michelle Alexander gets the Fresh Air treatment:

<http://www.npr.org/2012/01/16/145175694/legal-scholar-jim-crow-still-exists-in
-america?ft=1&f=13>
  
inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #174 of 174: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 19 Jan 12 18:32
    
That is a great book.
  



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